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Biological Chemistry

Chemical Secrets Of Starfish Stickiness

Researchers study how the sea creature roams its underwater environment without getting swept away

by Sarah Everts
April 21, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 16

STICKY STARFISH
09216-scicon-starfishcxdtif.jpg
Credit: Hans Hillewaert/PNAS
The common sea creature excretes adhesive from tube feet located on its underside that could inspire new underwater glues.

Starfish face a tricky challenge: They secrete adhesive from their tube feet to avoid getting swept away by currents, but the material’s stickiness must be reversible so the animal can move around to seek out food. Now, researchers in Belgium report the first analysis of a major protein constituent of these sticky secretions, a step toward developing starfish-inspired adhesives that are reversible on underwater or wet surfaces (Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 2014, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1400089111). A team led by Elise Hennebert and Patrick Flammang of the University of Mons analyzed the 11 proteins found in starfish tube feet secretions and then sequenced a massive 3,853-amino-acid protein, called SFP1, which is essential for adhesion. After being translated, SFP1 is cleaved into four subunits that are then linked together by disulfide bonds, which likely play a role in adhesion. Researchers are interested in the adhesives of underwater creatures because they work on all sorts of wet surfaces, which are often resistant to synthetic adhesives. Substances that adhere under such conditions could have naval and medical applications. Most of the research on adhesives from marine organisms has focused on critters that adhere permanently, such as mussels, which tenaciously cling to rocks and ships.

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